O'Brien hails the arrival of 57 new recruits thanks to Ballina project
As part of a collaboration between the IRFU, Connacht Rugby and Ballina RFC, the Ballina Special Project is in year two of its term. We caught up with Club & Community Rugby Officer Russell O'Brien to ask him about the progress so far:
Now into year two of the project, how is it going?
Russell O'Brien: We got off to a great start last season and laid some very solid foundations and this season we are reaping huge rewards from that work. From the schools participation side of things it is going extremely well, we have rugby in ten secondary schools and nine of them are actively taking part in this year's Top Oil Schools Cups!
What have been some of the successes to date?
RO'B: We have schools from non-traditional areas that have really embraced rugby, schools like Erris who are in the middle of a GAA heartland that are now fielding at senior and junior level, then there are schools that have kicked on to the next level like St Muiredeach's; they would have started out a number of years ago and are competing in the Top Oil Senior Cup this season as a direct result of the project, particularly the time and resources it takes to get the players out every week.
What has the impact on Ballina RFC and the local communities been?
RO'B: There's been a real tangible difference in the numbers coming into the club, we've been able to attribute the arrival of 57 new players to the club as a result of work we've put into the schools in the region over the last season and a half and there's been a significant increase in interest in rugby in the towns and communities around the North-West of the province, we've more parents getting involved, the standard of rugby is increasing all the time and we're providing a genuine alternative sport to kids that may not have had that opportunity in the past so from an inclusivity aspect its been a roaring success.
How have the schools reacted to the project?
RO'B: The attitude of the schools has been exceptionally positive, they have really embraced the scheme and have been very proactive in promoting the game, for instance, we have five teams across two schools, Lacken Cross and Crossmolina, where we wouldn't have had rugby in before, we also have the likes of Con Rooney, a Ballina Rugby Club player, who is a teacher in Enniscrone and progressing through the IRFU's coaching pathway so it's fantastic to be building links like that.